Birthright was my first time in Israel, and in 2016, it changed my life. Since then, Birthright has become a vital organization in my life. Here’s why:

I embarked on my Birthright Israel journey when I was 19 years old with two close Jewish friends and 40 new lifelong friends I had not met yet. What I didn’t expect when I got to the airport in Miami was that one of my best friends from high school just happened to be on the same trip as me. Isn’t that crazy? I guess it’s not so crazy when you’re Jewish and you’re in a room full of Jewish people. You know what they say: never underestimate Jewish geography.

The following ten days consisted of an immersive experience in Israel — we saw every facet of the country. When most people think of Israel, they think of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. And I must admit, those are two of my favorite cities in the world. If you’ve been to the Western Wall before, you know how special that place is. But one of the great things about Birthright Israel is that it allows you to connect with the smaller communities and really immerse yourself in the country.

For example, we stayed on a Kibbutz in the Negev desert and visited the Israel-Syria border. We also visited Safed, a beautiful and very religious mountainous town in Northern Israel. We also visited bomb shelters and spent a lot of time getting to know the IDF soldiers who were traveling with us—these soldiers were our age, which was difficult for me to comprehend. I could go on and on about my wonderful experience with this program and how much I enjoyed eating Israeli food for ten days, but the impact that this had on me runs much deeper than that. Israel became embedded in my soul. This trip formed the foundation of my connection to the holy land and was why I revisited Israel a few years later with a few girlfriends, just because I missed Tel Aviv. And it has propelled me to become an avid Israel supporter, too.

If you are reading this, then you know every extra voice that we have fighting for us is crucial. Having had a personal experience in Israel, a country I so passionately advocate for, is essential in my ability to debate and teach others. I believe connecting a young person with their ancestorial homeland is critical to this because, let’s face it, we are the problem. The young people are the problem, and a lot of colleges are failing young Jewish kids. This battle begins with giving young people their own experience in Israel so they can’t be easily swayed by misinformation and can go out into the world and teach others what they know. So, thank you for your investment in me in 2019 and for continuing to support such a great organization. I can’t think of a more critical time. Am Yisrael Chai!